Growing up shooting guns, Justin Willems said he knew he would be doing it for a long time.
What he didn’t know at the time was that he would make it to a national competition at the age of 17.
“My parents raised me outside shooting a gun,” Willems said. “To be where I am at now is amazing.”
Willems, along with fellow Moffat County 4-H member Mark Tuck, also 17, competed at the 2010 National 4-H Invitational from June 28 to July 3 in Kerrville, Texas.
The two competed last August in the Colorado 4-H State Shoot .22 rifle competition to qualify for the national .22 rifle event along with two other shooters from Colorado.
After a long week, Willems said he was proud of how he performed.
“A lot of shooting is getting ready mentally,” he said. “I think I was able to do that and I shot some of my personal best.”
The shooters had to compete in three events – silhouette, in which all shots are from the standing position; civilian marksmanship program, consisting of prone, standing and the shooter’s choice of kneeling or sitting; and three-position international, starting in prone, then standing and finally kneeling.
Willems placed 10th in all three events, finishing overall in eighth place out 76 shooters.
“I feel that (civilian marksmanship program) was my best event,” Willems said. “I feel more at home with that event than the other two.”
While Willems comes from Craig, Tuck grew up outside Dinosaur and attributed the “long distance from civilization” as his inspiration to start shooting.
“I started shooting when I was about 6 years old,” Tuck said. “When I was old enough for 4-H, I joined up because it was what I liked doing and it allowed me to be with other kids.”
The three-position international event was his strongest round, he said, because he practiced more on that than the other two events.
“I had a few equipment problems,” Tuck said. “But, I was able to do pretty good and only missed the target once.”
Tuck finished 45th overall, and while he thinks he could have done better, said he enjoyed the whole experience.
“My dad came to nationals with me and we went with a few friends to check out the area,” he said. “It was exciting meeting some of the best shooters from all over the country.”
The coordinator for the Moffat County 4-H shooting club, Jody Lee, was able to coach the .22 rifle team because Tuck placed first at the state competition.
“We’ve had five kids compete at nationals in the past three years,” Lee said. “We have a pretty good group of kids that we work with.”
Both Tuck and Willems only have a limited time left in 4-H, but said they would like to continue in National Rifle Association shooting competitions as they get older.
“After the first shot when you are young, you are hooked,” Tuck said. “There is no quitting now.”